Major B.C. Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project Nears Completion Despite Opposition and Environmental Violations

The terminus for the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline is seen at the LNG Canada export terminal under construction in Kitimat, B.C., on Sept. 28, 2022.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline, a significant natural gas transportation project spanning northern British Columbia, has reached a crucial milestone despite facing substantial opposition and allegations of environmental violations.

TC Energy, the company behind the project, announced on Monday that it has successfully installed all 670 kilometers of pipe. “That means that all 670 kilometres of pipe has been welded, coated, lowered into the trench, rigorously tested, and backfilled,” said the company in a release.

The pipeline, which was initially planned over a decade ago, will transport natural gas from near Dawson Creek in the province’s northeast to a substantial LNG Canada processing facility in Kitimat on the West Coast. This facility will then liquefy the natural gas and ship it to Asia, providing Canadian producers with access to new markets. The final welding was completed on October 7 at the base of Cable Crane Hill near Kitimat.

TC Energy also stated that they expect to complete the mechanical aspects of the pipeline, which includes final documentation, engineering analysis, and testing, by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, several trials for pipeline opponents, known as land defenders, have begun in Smithers, B.C. Although the pipeline has garnered support from some elected First Nations bands along its route, it has faced opposition from a group of hereditary chiefs who claim that Wet’suwet’en territory has never been ceded to the federal government, and that pre-colonial governance structures should manage the land.

In November 2021, 29 people were arrested during two days of police action in Wet’suwet’en territory, as RCMP moved in on a resistance camp, known as Coyote camp, that was occupying a vital work site for Coastal GasLink. Some of these individuals are now facing charges of criminal contempt.

On Monday, two people pleaded guilty to charges of criminal contempt for breaching a court order. Human rights group Amnesty International is calling for these charges to be dropped, asserting that the sovereignty of Wet’suwet’en leaders is being violated.

A photo taken by a B..C government inspector of a Coastal GasLink pipeline right of way in April 2022 shows soil erosion that violated the conditions of the company’s environmental permit. (Submitted by Ministry of Environment and Climate Change)

The project has also faced criticism due to its high number of environmental violations. In September 2023, Coastal GasLink was fined $346,000 for erosion and sediment control issues, as well as for providing false information in inspection records. The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) stated that these fines reflected the project’s “repeated non-compliance” with its environmental responsibilities. Since construction began in 2019, the project has received over 50 warnings, with inspection reports highlighting multiple infractions on sensitive waterways, such as the release of pollution into Fraser Lake.

Despite these controversies, the pipeline’s nearing completion was broadly celebrated by the Canadian energy sector. Industry experts view the Coastal GasLink pipeline, along with the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, as transformative projects that will improve market access and allow oil and gas companies to expand their production.

“First of all, just getting a pipeline to tidewater is huge,” said Heather Exner-Pirot, director of energy, natural resources, and environment for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. “But it also means we finally see some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of getting into the LNG game.”

She also commended the agreements TC Energy signed with 17 of 20 elected First Nations along the pipeline route, calling it a “groundbreaking” solution that has set a precedent for Indigenous economic reconciliation in Canada for major resource project development.

The LNG Canada facility, which will serve as the first liquefied natural gas export facility in Canada, is still under construction. However, the company announced in July that the project is 85% complete and is scheduled to begin exports by mid-decade. The facility represents the single largest private investment in Canadian history. Until it and the Coastal GasLink pipeline become operational, Canadian gas producers have no choice but to transport their natural gas from Western Canada to LNG facilities on the U.S. Gulf Coast.